Blog posts


The new pandemic – burnout in the caring professions

(I first wrote this in June 2020. How much more relevant is it now.)

Do any of these apply to you?

  • Feeling more and more tired, physically and mentally, but sleep just doesn’t help?
  • A feeling of pointlessness to everything that you do, even the things you used to find meaning in?
  • An increasing sense of being cut off from yourself and other people?
  • Being less and less effective at doing what you’ve always done at home or at work?
  • Sudden feelings of rage or hopelessness?
  • A profound weariness of spirit affecting how you relate to your work, your family and the world around you?

If all of these do you may well be in danger of, or already suffering from, burnout. And if you’re in the caring professions you are more likely to be suffering or in danger of suffering from burnout, right now. That’s because those in health and care have always been more prone to burnout. Covid has made this a whole lot worse.

What is burnout?

It was psychologist Frederick Freudenburger who first referred to burnout as we currently use the term, in 1974. At first it was considered to be something that just happened in the caring professions, but that was soon found not to be the case. The World Health Organisation defines burnout as:

“A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The WHO goes on to say burnout is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

It’s more than being tired

The trouble with these definitions is they don’t tell the whole story. When you burnout, it isn’t just a matter of physical and mental exhaustion. Burnout isn’t the same as simply being tired, or being stressed, or working too long, or having an overly-demanding job and an unappreciative boss, though all these things can contribute. It’s not the same as depression, though depression may be involved, and it isn’t even necessarily to do with work. It isn’t Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, though if it’s ignored it can result in CFS/ME, and it isn’t simply a midlife crisis.

End of the road

The most accurate description of burnout I’ve come across is from Dr Dina Glouberman in the States who describes it as:

“the state of mind, body and spirit reached by those of us who have come to the end of a particular road but haven’t acknowledged this” (‘The Joy of Burnout,’ Dr Dina Glouberman, 2003)

I like this description because it includes not just physical or psychological causes and effects, but also the impact on the spirit or the soul. To those who have not burned out this may seem absurd. But if you have burned out you will recognise the profound weariness with life and living which goes beyond the normal everyday stresses.

What does burnout feel like?

I have suffered from burnout so I know how it feels, for me at least. When you are burned out, you have nothing left to give. Every bit of you feels used up, broken, empty. Very often it happens when you have suffered significant shock or trauma in some part of your life, and have simply not had, or not allowed yourself, the time it takes to recover. Sometimes, I genuinely believe, there are situations so extreme burnout is inevitable and even necessary – situations when the normal rules simply do not apply. It’s at these times when the vulnerabilities in your own self-esteem – the unhelpful self-talk or your unhealthy motives for working so much – can become a problem. For example, there are some of us who believe we don’t need to rest like others, or that we only have value if we’re caring for someone else, or have little self-compassion, so we ignore the signals our body gives that things are just not right. And if you keep on ignoring this it can take a long time to recover.

Why is it a problem now?

Burnout in the caring professions

The prevalence of burnout in healthcare and caring professions has been the focus of many studies over recent years; however, the pandemic has created the conditions for burnout to become not just more common, but almost an inevitably.

While we have been celebrating the NHS in all its glory, the internet is full of pictures of exhausted NHS workers, faces bruised from masks, describing their exhaustion and their desperate need for a rest.

Some in the NHS are choosing to live away from their own families in order to safeguard them, sacrificing their family life for their vocation. Workers in the care sectors are suffering similar problems, some choosing to live away from their families in order to care for the residents, or putting themselves and their residents in danger by working without correct PPE. All of this to deliver the life-saving and -enhancing care their residents and clients need.

Emotional labour and the emotion work of care

In particular, we have been reliant on our health and care providers to provide the last bits of comfort to those who are ill or dying away from their families, in isolation. Anyone who has sat at the bedside of a dying relative knows the emotional toll it takes. Our health and care workers have been doing that for us, on a daily basis, as well as watching patients, clients and residents they care about deteriorate due to the illness, or because they do not have the regular dose of love from their families that keeps them going. All this puts an enormous burden on them which goes beyond the merely physical.

To explain the importance of that I’m going to refer a concept that was developed in the 1980’s – that of emotional labour, or emotion work. Remember, in those far-off days when we were able to, go overseas on holiday? When you’re on the plane, or booking into the hotel, or visiting a restaurant, think about what kind of emotional response you expected to get from the air stewards, waiting staff and receptionists. Friendly, caring, helpful, calm, cheerful and confident perhaps? What about if the staff had had a bad day, or you were being awkward, or they were going through a divorce. Would you still expect them to present a positive face? I’d imagine yes, because that’s what they’re paid for. And that’s what emotional labour describes:

‘The attempt to change or manage …emotions in order to present those feelings that are deemed suitable to the situation, or suppress those deemed inappropriate’

‘Leadership as Emotional Labour: Management and the Managed Heart’, Dr Marian Iszatt-White

Which jobs involve emotional labour?

Jobs that involve:

  • Face to face or voice to voice contact with the public
  • The need to create a certain emotional state in the customer or client – ie helping them to feel cared for, valued, happy
  • The employer , through training and supervision, exercising control over the emotional activities

are jobs that involve higher levels of emotional labour. As you can see, the caring professions meet those criteria.

Physical labour tires the body, which then needs time to recover, heal and strengthen. Emotional labour can lead to ‘compassion fatigue’ where individuals simply do not have any more emotional energy to give to anything or anyone. It’s this that leads to the reducing effectiveness at work and home, and to a sense of hopelessness and lack of joy. And it’s this that ultimately breaks the spirit if not addressed soon enough.

How to avoid burnout

I burned out because I did not recognise or pay attention to the signals my body and mind were giving me that something was wrong. I carried on rather than stopping and taking care of myself. If, when your body and heart is saying stop, you still expect to do all the things you did before – working at the same rate, exercising at the same rate, travelling in the same way, doing all the same things – without acknowledging the emotional and physical toll being taken on you, you’re more in danger of burning out. So, my top tips to avoid burnout are:

  • Build your own emotional and physical resilience and your own well-being. Like training for a marathon, there are things that you can do to improve your emotional fitness.
  • Be aware of what burnout is, and the signs and symptoms – reading this blog will help with that. Also go to our website to find out more. This means recognising your own personal stress signals, and addressing them as soon as possible.
  • Pay attention to the signals your body is giving you – the list at the beginning of the blog is a helpful checklist.
  • Take it and your health seriously. Understand that you can’t care for others if you’re not well. If you don’t, it can lead to significant physical and mental health issues.

The Joy of Burnout

Be aware that burnout is not all bad, and this is important. It can also be a gateway to a new way of life, with increased awareness and joy. After the ‘dark night of the soul’ comes a new morning. This is the message from Dina Glouberman, who has written about the transformational opportunities that burnout presents. If you feel that you may be burning out or in danger of it, go to This book gives a whole new perspective on the hope that can come through burn out.

For more information about the different stages of the process of burnout as outlined by Freudenburg, and to find out about Beehive’s Emotional Resilience training, and Suicide Awareness training, please go to our website You’ll also find details of our well-being programme ‘b.WELL with Beehive’.

What’s your experience of burnout? How have you dealt with it? Please feel free to comment and share, I’d love to know.


Emotional resilience – making health and safety personal

‘All My Sons’ is a play by Arthur Miller. I never see it without thinking of a comment made by a participant on one of our reenactment workshops. He’d been involved in an incident which though serious could have been much more so. Now, before putting anyone to work, he asks himself, ‘would I put my son to work in this situation?’ Safety had become deeply personal to him.

Everyone is someone’s son or daughter

His comment wasn’t intended to exclude women, he just didn’t have a daughter. But what had been brought very clearly into focus for him was he’d been complacent, and it was only luck that stopped serious harm happening to a colleague. He was courageous enough to admit it, and recognise that everyone is someone’s son or daughter. Therefore, they were precious and he needed to take more care.

That universal idea is the central theme of the play , which is as good an analysis of the causes and devastating consequences of a protection v. production decision as any event report or case study I’ve come across. It’s also about human weakness and the need for personal qualities, like courage and resilience, under pressure.

‘Knowing’ and knowing

The ability to catastrophise is an important skill for the safety practitioner. Part of the role is anticipating what can go wrong, and mitigating risk because, as Murphy’s Law says, if things can go wrong they will. But there are two different types of knowing that things can go wrong:

  1. One is the intellectual knowledge, based on training, rationality, laws of probability, physical properties, situational conditions, and endless induction presentations, that mistakes happen and so may happen to you.
  2. The other is ‘lived experience’, the very personal, visceral knowledge you gain through actually being involved in an incident. This cuts through the psychological defence of ‘it would never happen to me’ – it has. The knowledge that the world can turn from comfortable predictability to chaos without warning is something that can’t be learned through powerpoint or toolbox talks. And it has a profound effect.

Those people to whom nothing has ever happened and who do not have the ‘lived experience’ cannot, by definition, have the second type of knowledge. That’s not a failing, it’s a fact. Sometimes the issue for those people to whom something has happened, particularly if there is any kind of post-traumatic impact, can be hypervigilance – seeing danger in everything. That can be paralysing, and as unhelpful as denial. A middle way seems best to me – vigilance but without the hyper. Recognising the risks and mitigating them while still functioning as effectively as possible.

Safety – deeply personal

I’ve been involved in a very significant incident in the workplace, where the unimaginable happened with life-changing consequences. I’ve seen and experienced personally the impact that a significant incident can have on someone’s mental and physical health.

In a previous life I was a police officer. On a shift by shift basis I dealt with others’ life changing  events, which had both accidental and intentional causes. The impact on the perpetrator could be as intense as the impact on the victim. Later, as a trainee psychotherapist I worked with people coming to terms with the effects of similar kinds of incidents and events on their lives. There’s no solution – these events are part of living. But we can still do a lot to prevent them, which begins with taking responsibility for our actions.

Case study – Mark Sykes, Beehive Director says:

“While suicide obviously effects all genders, I know personally how hard it is to be a man and talk about feelings when something bad has happened. Not having anyone to talk to about how you feel reduces your emotional resilience. I have two sons who, while being apparently happy and stable, are at a very vulnerable age when it comes to emotional well-being and risk of suicide. The statistics are frightening. It really brings it close to home.

A participant on our D2iP b.SAFE Safety Leadership programme shared that through the coaching skills that he’d learned on the programme he had almost certainly prevented someone from taking their own life. We can never be sure of course, but I know that had I had the skills, knowledge and awareness I have now in my 20s and 30s I would have made very different decisions.

Beehive’s mission is to reduce error and accidents at work by taking a different approach to safety education and safety culture. We see emotional resilience and suicide awareness as being directly related to keeping people safe at work, because improving well-being and mental health reduces error pre-cursors.”

The Beehive approach – building emotional resilience

It’s no surprise therefore that the focus of Beehive is working to develop the kind of individual and organisational mindset, skills and tools that will help to avoid such incidents, increase accountability and keep people safe. To summarise what we seek to develop:


Awareness that Interdependency is not a safety culture, it’s the human condition. We need, are impacted on, and impact on others whether we recognise it or like it or not. Therefore, we need to shift our mindset to recognise this fact, and start learning the interpersonal and communication skills that will help us to work with the people around us. That’s the only way we can hope to minimise harm and keep ourselves and each other safe.


We need the skills that enable us to work with each other most effectively. Assertive communication, listening, compassion, constructive feedback, leadership, team building, performance management, collaborative problem solving, and building trust and relationships, are some of the most important skills for any site or organisation to function effectively. When I talk to people about this I have never heard anyone disagree. Yet, in my experience, there are few organisations putting serious money into investing in the personal mastery of these skills. But these are what will facilitate the next step change in safety, which is cultural.


Tools such as coaching and  mentoring models, action and experiential learning models, developing and sharing best practice models, collaborative problem solving and human performance approaches are essential tools. Any tool that help someone to recognise the systemic nature of human interaction, promote understanding, improve communication and build trust and resilience, supports this process. But any tool is reliant on the mindset and skills of the people using them. Take a look at my past blog to find out why.

Safeguarding – an essential part of QHSE

I’m not suggesting that all we need to keep people safe is a group hug. I am saying that part of QHSE has to be safeguarding our colleagues in more ways than the purely physical or the purely compliant. For Mark and me this stuff is not just business, it’s personal. And to make the next step change in safety this is the direction we need to go in – we need to make it personal.

New Emotional Resilience and Suicide Awareness Workshops

Beehive is now licensed by 4Mental Health to deliver their Emotional Resilience Workshop, and Suicide Awareness Workshop. These have been designed on evidence-based principles by Dr Alys Cole-King, a psychiatrist and pioneer of suicide mitigation. For more information about Dr Alys Cole-King’s contributions to suicide mitigation take a look at The Lancet. For more information about these workshops and the evidence base, please contact

For more information about the b.SAFE D2iP Safety Leadership Programme contact Mark Sykes on or go to


Suicide watch – why mental health matters both to business and safety

You may expect the answer to the question, ‘what’s the biggest killer of men under 5o’, to be an accident or cancer. But the shocking answer is – themselves. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50, and particularly between 40 and 44 yrs. It’s also the leading cause of death for all genders between 24 and 30, but the male statistic is particularly poignant. And the reason?

“One reason that men are more likely to complete suicide may be because they are less likely than women to ask for help or talk about depressive or suicidal feelings.3 ”  Recent statistics show that only 27% of people who died by suicide between 2005 and 2015 had been in contact with mental health services in the year before they died.4

It’s a sobering thought and perhaps particularly worth reflecting on for male-dominated industries where the culture may be especially, for the want of a better word, ‘macho’. In the same way that any discussion of safety needs to include psychological safety, the health in HSE needs to include mental health too.

Mental Health Awareness Week

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and all media is bursting with valuable information about the importance of good mental health to quality of life and well-being. But good mental health is also an important part of organisational safeguarding of employees . The good news for organisations is it’s good for business. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) identifies two elements to well-being. These are ‘feeling good and functioning well’. It’s not rocket science that if your staff feel good and function well they’re going to be more productive.

Good mental health contributes to safety

But well-being and good mental health are also crucial to reducing risk and errors. As an experiment try this. Take a look at the two lists below. Do you recognise either of them? Can you see any relationship between the two?

wellbeing v error trap without headings

List One comprises the factors that impact most positively on workplace well-being, based on NEF’s 2014 literature review List Two comprises the Dirty Dozen Error Traps, a list of the preconditions that most contribute to errors and accidents taken from human factors literature. Can you see a relationship between the two lists?

High levels of well-being reduce error pre-cursors

The more there is of list one, the less there will be of list two, for example:

  • If someone is in good health, mental and physical, and has a healthy work/life balance, the error trap of fatigue is likely to be reduced.
  • If role expectations are realistic and a person has more control over their work the error traps of time pressure and resource allocation, for example, may well be reduced. And their mental health is also likely to be better
  • Certain management styles – particularly a coaching style which is both engaging and collaborative – are conducive to good teamwork, good communications, high morale and positive social norms. All of which contribute to good mental health and well being
  • Development opportunities can not just reduce complacency, but also lack of knowledge or lack of assertiveness (but only if it is the right kind of development). This can also reduce stress, and improve mental health and well being.
  • And fairness and job security make a big contribution to stress reduction, and therefore improves well-being and mental health.

But how do you improve the mental health of your workforce?

1. Improve the culture

Improving the culture of your organisation – in I I give a snapshot of what organisational culture is all about. It takes time to change, but one way of doing so is through training such as

2. Training*

Ensuring there are trained mental health first aiders in the organisation – an informal resource of colleagues rather than relying for initial contact on formal or external resources – might improve the chances of someone opening up about issues.

3. Raise awareness*

Raising people’s awareness of mental health as an issue and establishing mental health champions in the business can normalise talking about it. This week has been so important in this.

4. Change the management style in the organisation**

Certain management styles and activities are more conducive to the well-being of workers than others. Coaching in particular, because it involves good communication skills like listening and asking open questions, is particularly powerful in improving morale and well-being

5. Get more women in leadership positions!**

Women are more likely to display transformational leadership skills than men, who are more associated with a transactional leadership aproach. Nurturing female talent in areas other than HR, learning and development and HSE can help to change the culture in organisations and on site.

6. Change how we define health and safety

Take a look at these two definitions of safety:

  1. ‘The condition of being protected against physical, social, spiritual, financial, political, emotional, occupational, psychological, educational or other types or consequences of failure, damage, error, accidents, harm or any other event which could be considered non-desirable.’
  2. ‘The control of recognised hazards to achieve an acceptable level of risk.’

The first definition is a wide and all-encompassing definition of safety. It includes protection against a range of hazards and risks, not just physical, and includes the well-being factors in list one.

The second I would argue is more aligned to how health and safety is often perceived and practised – focused more on physical health, hazards and risks than on any other kind. The result can be a focus on reducing risk through compliance, regulation, process and physical defences. This has the potential to miss the wider factors that impact on accidents and errors such as improving workplace well-being and mental health of workers.

A change in attitude is needed

Of course, compliance, regulation, process and physical defences are vital and have resulted in the massive reductions in accidents seen over the last few decades. But they are not the whole story. The next step change in reducing error and accidents requires recognition that:

  • low workplace well-being and poor mental health are error preconditions and therefore require measurement and action
  • low workplace well-being is a cultural factor and improving it requires systemic change 
  • spending money on improving workplace well-being and on measures to support good mental health in the workforce makes good business sense

Share with us your experiences and please feel free to subscribe to the blog if you like what you’ve read, or pass this on to colleagues

Beehive can offer:

*MHFA Programmes

The MHFA England is the only body licensed to provide accredited mental health first aid programmes. Beehive can now offer :

  • Two day Mental Health First Aider courses which train ‘first responders’ in the organisation as a resource for employees to talk to
  • One day Mental Health Awareness workshops for all staff to raise awareness
  • Half day Mental Health Champions workshops for senior managers and HR

Through our latest associate Mark Bussell. For more details contact

**Accredited coaching programmes

  • Beehive is an ILM approved centre and offer:
  • In-house ILM-accredited Coaching and Mentoring Certificate and Diploma programmes at levels 3, 5 and 7
  • ILM-accredited ‘Coaching for Safety’ Certificate programmes at levels 3 and 5
  • Bespoke coaching and mentoring programmes
  • Our exclusive ‘Coaching for a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ introductory workshop through NSAN, which can be delivered in-house.

For more details contact or go to


The secret danger that safety leaders miss

So much time and energy in HSE is devoted to reducing physical risks in the workplace. But there is a secret danger that no one talks about, that has way more influence on safety behaviours. It’s called social risk, and it has way more influence on how you and your colleagues think, behave, and feel than you are aware of. The antidote to reducing the secret danger of social risk is good safety leadership, in particular creating psychological safety.

So much time and energy in HSE is devoted to reducing physical risks in the workplace. But there is a secret danger that no one talks about, that has way more influence on safety behaviours. It’s called social risk, and it has way more influence on how you and your colleagues think, behave, and feel than you are aware of. The antidote to reducing the secret danger of social risk is good safety leadership, in particular creating psychological safety.

Social risk

To understand what I’m talking about by social risk, try this little exercise:

  • Think of a time when you saw a deviation from a safety or quality procedure, and you challenged it.
  • Now think of a time when you saw a deviation from safety or quality procedure – perhaps you were part of it – and you didn’t challenge it. What were the factors that led to you acting differently in one situation than the other?
  • Now think of the deviations that occur everyday in your workplace, that have become normal, part of ‘the way we do things round here’. Why does no one resolve the issue or challenge it?

The chances are that among the reasons you didn’t challenge was the fear that you’ll be:

  1. Laughed at, or thought stupid or ‘soft’;
  2. Seen as ‘one of them’ (management, other team, area, profession) rather than ‘one of us’;
  3. Blamed
  4. Thought to be sucking up to someone or wanting to appear better than the others;
  5. Left vulnerable and isolated;
  6. Target of bullying or harassment; and/or
  7. At risk of losing a job or position…

This kind of fear is evidence of social risk. It’s something that influences behaviour far more than physical risk but is rarely given the same attention.

Social norms

Social risk has its basis in our need to belong which is one of the strongest drivers in human existence. Basically, we want to be part of a group and to fit in, and social risk refers to anything that threatens that belonging or our status in the group. Different groups have different social ‘norms’ – unspoken rules and power structures that govern what a typical member of that group does or doesn’t think/feel/say/act. The risk in social risk comes from transgressing the ‘social norms’ of the group.

Where social risk is highest

Social norms – the unspoken rules – can be particularly strong where:

  • Individuals work in an unusual, dangerous or remote environment and/or are not under the same kind of scrutiny as normal – site workers, soldiers, police and night shifts are good examples
  • There is little or weak leadership so norms and behaviours are set by the loudest voice, not the most informed
  • There is a dominant group of people working with a small minority – for example a largely male environment with a small female minority or vice versa, or a mainly white work force with a minority of BAME workers

In these situations – in a canteen culture or when things get ‘tribal’ – the social risk of being different is higher. We’re more likely to conform to what’s expected than challenge it, even if our physical safety may be compromised.

Psychological safety

When we tell people they need to have a questioning attitude, be open about mistakes, challenge, and ‘stop the line’- even to make suggestions or come up with ideas for improvement – we’re asking them to take a risk which can seem much greater in the moment than any physical risks involved.

For example – take a situation where a fire extinguisher has been used to prop open a fire door, enabling a group of people immediate access to an area that it would take them a minute to walk to otherwise. No one has ever challenged this and it has become the norm – there have been no fires so the physical risk seems minimal. The social risk for a colleague in questioning this and ensuring the fire door is shut is enormous, however. It has the potential to make them at the least very unpopular, or worse. Here, the immediate physical risk of upsetting the group can seem far greater than the distant risk of a fire. So it’s the social risk that drives the behaviour – the fire door continues to be propped open.

The additional risk – diversity

Social risk increases if the person questioning is part of a minority, where they may already have to work hard to show they fit in and are worthy of a place in the group. A woman might be afraid of being dismissed as a ‘typical woman’ or a ‘ball breaker’ if she challenges language or behaviour, or someone with a religious requirement might be afraid of being seen as awkward or unsuitable for the job of they ask for their needs to be met. Yet their contributions might be much more valuable BECAUSE of their difference. They could provide a new perspective that could save a life.

Safety leadership

If you’re a safety leader it’s not just about keeping people physically safe. You need to reduce the social risks by creating psychological safety, even for people who are different to you or your colleagues so everyone feels comfortable in giving their best.

Social risks can lead to catastrophic events. After the financial crash of 2008, Sir David Walker reported on the causes in 2009 in The Walker Report. In this he outlines how psychological phenomena such as groupthink – a term coined after The Challenger Crash – led to the catastrophic decision making that resulted in the crash. Groupthink can occur where the social risks of disagreement become too great. Groupthink also contributed to the Challenger event. The social risks of being the one to stop the rocket flying were too great.

PPE – psychologically protected environment?

People need to feel psychologically safe if we really want them to challenge, question, share mistakes, and stop the line – if we want to get the best from people full stop. Perhaps, therefore, we need to think of a different kind of PPE. Not personal protective equipment but a psychologically protected environment.


How coaching can support ‘Continuous learning’ in the nuclear sector

This final blog in the series is about the third category of WANO traits – ‘Management systems’, and in particular the role of coaching in continuous learning. The coaching mindset is one of continuous learning, and coaching models provide a framework for the process. Coaching skills are also of real value when gathering operating experience feedback.

My last three blogs (see links below) have been about non-directive coaching and how it’s relevant to the nuclear sector. I’ve used the WANO ‘Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ to draw parallels between those traits and the mindset, skills and tools of coaching. This final blog in the series is about the third category of WANO traits – ‘Management systems’, and in particular the role of coaching in continuous learning. The coaching mindset is one of continuous learning, and coaching models provide a framework for the process. Coaching skills are also of real value when gathering operating experience feedback.

The coaching conversation – a framework for continuous learning

As mentioned in my first blog on this topic, coaching is effectively a conversation, but one with a specific structure, purpose ……. and shape. The structure, purpose and shape are designed to facilitate the process of continuous learning.

‘DIAMOND’ CONVERSATIONS- a coaching model

At Beehive we describe coaching conversations as diamond conversations for two reasons:

OSCAR Coaching Model, used with kind permission of Worth Learning, showing the diamond shape of a coaching conversation.
The OSCAR Coaching Model, used with kind permission of Worth Learning, showing the diamond shape of a coaching conversation.
  1. Partly because, taking the OSCAR Model we use as an example, they begin with a sharp focus on a clear outcome; they expand to consider the current situation, they expand further as choices and consequences are considered before narrowing the focus down to a point of action and review
  2. But mainly because coaching conversations are priceless.

the ‘Three Whats’ Model of Review

Another example of a coaching-based, continuous learning model is this simple process of three open questions, the Three Whats. It’s a quick and dirty approach to gaining operating experience feedback on the go:

  1. What? (ie what happened, simple description)
  2. So What? (ie so what are the implications of what happened? What worked, what didn’t, what impact will this have?)
  3. Now What? (ie now what do we do differently next time?)

It’s not in-depth or complicated, but it might just be enough to stop people repeating unhelpful actions or behaviours, start improving the process, and give those people working a voice so their thoughts, feelings, experiences and expertise can be taken into account. And it encapsulates the continuous learning process – taking time to reflect and review after a task rather than mindlessly doing what’s been done before.

In summary….how coaching supports a healthy nuclear safety culture

Coaching in organisational life

Coaching has become a standard feature of organisational life, recognised as good management practice across sectors and organisations. Research has shown that coaching has a significant impact on performance, skills, well-being, coping work attitudes, and goal directed self-regulation, and can improve the functioning of individuals in organisations.

The role of coaching in health and safety

In the past rules, regulations, process and procedure have been the dominant modalities through which health and safety has been delivered. The overarching intention has been to achieve compliance. But compliance is no longer enough. Developments in safety thinking including ISO 45001 show that the next big shifts in the field of health and safety will be cultural, where compliance is no longer aspirational but a minimum. There’s a growing awareness that technical skills and capability aren’t enough to supervise or lead in a safety critical industry, and bodies like IOSH have recognised the value and adopted coaching with enthusiasm as you can see below.

Coaching and the WANO traits

My intention in these blogs is not to suggest that coaching skills are unique to nuclear – coaching skills are generic and transferable; just good communication skills, good management practice. My intention is more to show how closely the mindset, skills and values of the discipline of coaching match the WANO traits. Bitter experience has shown that shortfalls of these traits contribute to plant events, and when they’re present they contribute to a positive safety culture. Therefore, through a simple process of logical deduction, developing coaching as an activity and skill set can help an organisation move closer to a healthy nuclear safety culture.

‘Coaching to support a Healthy Nuclear safety Culture’ one-day workshop

Our nuclear workshop, designed and delivered in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear and with the help and feedback of nuclear organisations, is intended to give a taster, an introduction to coaching and how it might support your safety culture. We want to share what we know because we genuinely believe it can make a difference to nuclear safety. A one-day workshop won’t change the culture of a whole organisation directly. However, if you use the practical tools and skills you learn you can change the safety climate, and potentially improve everything from near miss reporting to contractor management and engagement. And who knows, that might be enough (though we’ll never know) to avert a disaster like Chernobyl.

Join us on June 12th


Three reasons why coaching skills are invaluable for nuclear leaders

Coaching skills are invaluable for nuclear leaders. They help increase accountability, improve decision making and create a respectful work environment, all vital elements of a healthy nuclear safety culture

In my previous blog I used a quotation by Karl Weick. The basic message was, in high reliability organisations, when technical systems get too big and complex it’s impossible for a single person to understand them or anticipate problems. Humans need what Weick describes as ‘rich, dense talk’ (Weick, 1987) – communication that generates enough data to help inadequate humans make sense of what’s going on. Face to face talk is richest, and coaching encourages it to be richer. This is why coaching skills are invaluable for nuclear leaders.

This has real relevance to building ‘Management commitment to safety’, the second category of the WANO ‘Traits of a Healthy Nuclear safety Culture’. I never fail to be in awe of the managers in nuclear facilities. The responsibilities are so great, the risks so profound. They need every bit of support that can be given to help them do this. I don’t just mean technical training, or safety by design, organisation or even behaviour. I also mean in developing ‘soft power’ skills like coaching.

The problem with human cognition

I started studying human psychology and communication back in the ’90s. When I became aware of how complex it was, I was astonished that humans ever manage to create any kind of shared understanding, or get anything done at all. This familiar Youtube clip shows some of the problems with human perception – how easy it is to miss things when you’re looking for something else. Our senses are not, in many ways, reliable.

‘Nuisance alarms’ and ‘sign blindness’

The need to be constantly alert – to be paying attention at all times – is contrary to the way our brain works. From an evolutionary perspective we are designed to ‘tune out’ things that are constantly there that seem to present no threat, so we can save energy and attention for the real threats. This is why we have ‘nuisance alarms’ and ‘sign blindness’ – we switch off from things we don’t need to pay attention to any more. It’s one of the biggest issues with having achieved a safe working environment – when things are safe we automatically let our guard down, and we’re fighting against our cognition when we try to keep vigilant.

Coaching and ‘Management commitment to safety’

In the face of how challenging it is to keep vigilant, and in view of the nuclear safety culture traits associated with the second WANO category, ‘Management commitment to safety:

  • Leadership accountability
  • Decision making
  • Respectful work environment

Coaching, and the mindset, skills and tools associated with it, help managers to stay vigilant by using the knowledge, experience and perceptions of the people around them, rather than having to rely entirely on their own resources.

Three ways in which coaching skills support nuclear managers:

  1. When managers use coaching models and tools they:
  • help people think through and ‘own’ a course of action. This improves confidence and accountability. It therefore improves ‘Individual commitment to safety’
  • help people think through the choices and their consequences. This helps to ensure ‘conservative bias’ – making sure the safest course of action is taken

2. When managers use open rather than closed questions they:

  • gain valuable information from the people around them, which they couldn’t get themselves. Therefore, while accountability still rests with the manager, they have better information on which to base decisions
  • understand the thought processes behind how people act. This helps to highlight gaps in knowledge or awareness, and identify training needs

3. When managers adopt the Adult – Adult coaching mindset, the work environment automatically becomes more respectful:

  • the coaching process is one which treats people with dignity. They are treated as if they are capable of thinking and as if their opinions matter
  • in addition, people feel valued because they are listened to. Trust automatically increases

Coaching skills for nuclear leaders

The results can be transformational. However,I’m not suggesting that simply changing to a coaching style of management will solve every problem a nuclear leader faces. Nor am I suggesting that open questions are the only type of questions that are useful – that would be absurd.

My point is that coaching provides a set of skills that will increase the flexibility of response of nuclear managers. Managers need to be able to move along the ‘ask/tell’ continuum of management styles to respond most flexibly to a situation, particularly when things are going wrong. Coaching skills, and the mindset and tools of coaching, provide an alternative set of tools for those people with the awe-inspiring responsibility of keeping our nuclear facilities safe.

Ref: Weick, K,  ‘Organisational Culture as a source of High Reliability’ (California Management Review, Volume XXIX, Number 2, Winter 1987

Coaching and nuclear safety workshop


How coaching supports ‘Individual commitment to safety’

Coaching can support ‘Individual commitment to nuclear safety’ by increasing accountability, promoting a questioning attitude and improving communication flow.

My last article about how coaching can support a healthy nuclear safety culture outlined the three categories of WANO traits:

  1. Individual commitment to safety
  2. Management commitment to safety
  3. Management systems

I’m going to take the first of these, and show how the mindset, skills and tools of coaching can contribute significantly to ‘Individual commitment to safety‘.

1. Individual commitment to safety

Trait: ‘Personal accountability’

This trait focuses on the need for people to take personal responsibility for their actions. It also relates to understanding the importance of sticking to nuclear standards, and taking ownership of behaviour and work practices. Working across groups, departments and teams to make sure nuclear safety is maintained forms a part of this trait too. 

How coaching can help

To be personally accountable for your actions – to recognise your own responsibility and agency in maintaining nuclear standards, for example – needs an ‘Adult’ mindset. That’s one that’s grounded, situationally aware, problem solving and accountable. Coaching, because it invites people to reflect, think through a course of action, consider different options and make a decision, invites an Adult mindset. (see Ego States model below)

A ‘Parent’ management style with too much ‘tell’ encourages an ‘Adapted Child’ mindset. This can result in people becoming resentful or resistant; a ‘jobsworth’, blaming others or being passive and over compliant – acting without thought or accountability. None of these are helpful in developing personal accountability.

"How coaching supports 'Individual commitment to safety'" The 'Ego states model, a model of personality in which different elements of the personality - Parent, Adult and Child are used as a way of describing and analysing communication.
“How coaching can support ‘Individual commitment to safety'”. The Ego states model is a model of personality in which different elements of the personality – Parent, Adult and Child – are used to describe and analyse communication. Ego states are ‘consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviour’. Parent ego state is split into the two functions Controlling and Nurturing, and Child into the two functions Adapted and Free. Coaching needs an Adult mindset, and invites an Adult ego state response.

Trait: Questioning attitude

The focus of this trait is the importance of avoiding complacency, challenging assumptions and the unknown, and recognising the uniqueness of the nuclear context. 

How coaching can help

A questioning attitude is the essence of coaching – it’s what coaching is all about. Knowing what questions to ask, however, and how to control and structure a conversation is a real skill which takes time and practice to develop. Coaching training develops and refines questioning skills, along with other interpersonal such as listening, non-verbal communication, feedback and goal setting. These skills are valuable for everything from improving the effectiveness of human performance tools to event investigation.

Trait: safety communication

The focus of this trait is on making sure there's broad, open, candid and free flowing communication, up and down the organisation.

How coaching can help

Karl Weick in ‘Organisational Culture as a source of High Reliability’ (California Management Review, Volume XXIX, Number 2, Winter 1987 ) asserts that “accidents occur because the humans who operate and manage complex systems are themselves not sufficiently complex to sense and anticipate the problems generated by those systems”. High reliability organisations need ‘rich, dense talk’ so that humans have the data to understand complex systems. The richest information is gained through face to face interactions.

Use of open questions, the basis of coaching, can increase the richness of face to face communication as it encourages people to talk and share knowledge, thoughts, feelings and concerns. Using coaching interactions encourages the free flow of information, as individuals are asked to think through and share their decision making processes and rationale for action.

Coaching and safety

I hope in this article I’ve done enough to start to convince you that the process of coaching in the nuclear workplace, along with the mindset and skills developed as you learn to coach, and the mindset encouraged in the person being coached, all help to develop and support ‘Individual commitment to Safety’.

Tomorrow I’ll explore coaching’s contribution to the second category ‘Management commitment to safety.


How coaching can support a healthy nuclear safety culture

The mindset, skills and tools of coaching have direct correlation to the traits and attributes identified by WANO as being characteristic of positive safety culture.

I have previously I blogged about organisational culture , outlining the four things you need to know if you’re looking for cultural change. One of the four things was that organisational history is part of culture – what’s happened in the past influences ‘the way we do things’ today.


I was reminded that events in an industry’s history impact on the culture of the organisations in it as I read Serghi Plokhy’s sobering book ‘Chernobyl – History of a Tragedy’. The Chernobyl event in 1986 changed the world; it also transformed the nuclear industry. Nuclear operators realised that they needed to work together and learn from each other to avoid further catastrophe. The result was WANO, the World Association of Nuclear Operators, formed in 1989.

WANO traits

WANO’s mission is:
‘To maximise the safety and reliability of nuclear power plants worldwide by working together to assess, benchmark and improve performance through mutual support, exchange of information and emulation of best practices.’ *

As part this, WANO published the Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture. which describes the traits – defined as ‘pattern[s] of thinking, feeling and behaving’** – found to be present in a positive safety culture. The traits are grouped into three categories:

  1. Individual commitment to safety
  2. Management commitment to safety
  3. Management systems

Framework for discussion

What WANO doesn’t do is prescribe the best way of developing the traits. Instead they’re presented as a ‘framework for open discussion’** and a way to keep nuclear safety culture evolving. Beehive Coaching and Leadership Development Ltd has been providing learning and development to the nuclear sector for over a decade and we’re an organisation with coaching at its heart – the clue’s in the name. To contribute to the ongoing discussion I’d like to show how the discipline of coaching, and its associated mindset, skills and tools, can help to develop the traits and therefore support a healthy nuclear safety culture.

‘Change the conversation, change the culture’.

The WANO document states that shortfalls of the traits have been shown to play a big part in plant events. The decisions and actions that led to such incidents as Three-mile Island and Chernobyl, for example, were a direct result of plant culture, traced to the beliefs, values and shared assumptions of the organisation**. In my past blog I show that culture has complexity, breadth and depth as well as history, which makes changing it a long term project. But there is an organisational development principle which is a good place to start culture change. That is – change the conversation, change the culture. When we change communication in an organisation we go along way to changing culture too.

Using coaching to develop and support a healthy nuclear safety culture

Coaching is a conversation, but a conversation that has a specific:

  • structure and purpose
  • mindset
  • skill set
  • series of tools and models.

non-directive coaching

There are different styles of coaching but the style I’m talking about is ‘ask’ not ‘tell’. It’s about using questions rather than giving instructions, and crucially, open questions. The non-directive focus of coaching conversations – using open questions in a structure which guides the individual or team through reflection to decision making and action – is what gives coaching its potential to transform. It increases situational awareness, improves problem solving and decision making and increases accountability. It puts the human into human performance in a way that no other approach can.

Highly regulated industries and dependent safety culture

A non-directive approach can be a big challenge to hierarchical organisations with a traditional management style, however, particularly in highly regulated industries. In these there’s always a danger that the necessity of compliance to regulation can result in a dependent safety culture, characterised by a ‘tell’ management style where compliance is not only the safety focus but the safety aspiration.

But compliance is surely the minimum to be aiming for, whereas building commitment to the intent and principles behind the regulation is the key aim of supervision and management. And building commitment requires a different set of skills and a different style of management to ensuring compliance – one that coaching training can provide.

how coaching relates to WANO’s three categories of traits

Over the next three days I’ll be taking each of the categories of WANO traits in turn, to show how coaching can make a significant contribution to each. To join in this conversation, and to share the impact coaching has had on your organisation, or the impact you’d like it to have, subscribe to the blog.

(Due to the current pandemic Beehive and NSAN are running the C4HNSC workshop as 3 x 2.5hr sessions live-streamed via Zoom. The session run over three weeks with workplace tasks in between. The first sessions start at 10am on July 14th 2020 and continue at the same time on July 21st and 28th. They are endorsed by NS4P. For more information or to book your place please go to )


** WANO Principles PL 2013-1 ‘Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture@


Transitioning to ISO 45001 – four things you need to know about organisational culture

Find out why an organisational culture change initiative is like reading Stephen Hawking’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’

In my blog post ‘Why ISO 45001 is a safety revolution’ I mentioned the key differences between ISO 45001 and OHSAS 18001. One of them is the need to understand the cultural context of the organisation and what drives it – an aspect of ISO 45001 which has no equivalent in OHSAS 18001. As an organisational development consultancy, organisational culture is the backdrop to everything that we do – if you work in an organisation it’s the back drop to everything you do too. It’s also something that is often misunderstood. To understand organisational culture, you need to know the following four things. Hopefully, when you do, this will help you to ‘build in’ not ‘bolt on’ safety to organisational culture.

Before we begin, here’s a question:

What is an organisational culture change initiative like reading Stephen Hawking’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’?

You’ll have to wait till the end of the blog for the answer, but here’s the first thing you need to know about culture:

1. It’s complex

Organisations are ‘complex systems’ – open systems to be exact. The ‘systems’ bit means that all the different parts of an organisation are connected, so something happening in one area impacts on the others through the ripple effect. The ‘open’ bit means all those parts are also connected to the outside, so changes outside impact inside. The ‘complex’ bit is that the connections between the parts aren’t necessarily obvious or even visible, so the impact of changes inside or outside can be unpredictable. In addition, organisations are constantly moving and changing as internal and external conditions change. All of which make organisations, and therefore culture, complex.

2. It has breadth

From 'Transitioning to ISO 45001 - four things you need to know about organisational culture' - a blog post to help those wanting to 'build in' not 'bolt on' safety to organisational culture. How all the different elements of an organisation are connected through core values, the beating heart of the organisation.
Beehive SySTERMS Model showing formal connections through the core values of the organisation

Culture encompasses everything in and about an organisation. It isn’t held in HR, it isn’t a ‘thing’ that is ‘bolted on’ – that sits alongside strategy or in corporate – it is everything. The structure of the organisation, its strategy, the systems, the employees and training, management, resources, and the patterns of how these functions interact – all of these are part of the culture. So, culture is both complex, and it has breadth.

3. It has depth

Most of organisational culture is invisible – held at what’s called the ‘psychological’ level. Like an iceberg, part of it is above the surface but more of it is below. This means you’re unlikely to be aware of it most of the time because it’s just ‘the way we do things round here’. In fact the only time people are really aware of the culture is in the first two to three months of a new job, or after a merger where two cultures are brought closely together!

The things above the surface include what you can touch, like the uniforms, offices and reception areas, company cars, PPE, for example, and what you can see like the branding, and behaviours – how employees speak to and treat each other, how conflict is dealt with, what happens in meetings, etc.

Below the surface are the intangible and invisible parts of culture – the collective mindset, attitudes, beliefs and values that drive organisational behaviours. What’s above provides the clues to what’s below. A great example of this are the ‘symbols of power’.

'Transitioning To ISO 45001' - four things you need to know about organisational culture to make it easier. If you want to make a cultural change it's helpful to know these four things before you begin. Understanding the complexities and the multi level nature of culture means you can anticipate and plan more effectively.

‘Symbols of power’ are the things that demonstrate who and what’s important – who gets a parking space or company car, who gets the best office, the state of the works canteen, helmet colour, who’s late for meetings without comment. There can be a difference between what’s said, in the mission statement or company values, and what’s done – that difference is part of the culture too. If you want to know the real values, look at what happens, not what’s said. For example, on the Niceberg, CEO Mr C Gull is giving friendly fish a V sign despite the mission statement ‘to be nice’.

4. It has a fourth dimension – time

In the same way that our past experiences shape us as a person and influence how we feel about what’s happening in the present, past organisational events impact on how employees respond to what’s happening in the present too. If there has been a poorly executed job evaluation in the past where employees felt undervalued, for example, the next time a significant change is introduced there may be more resistance. Past events and the feelings associated with them are communicated through stories told that can develop into powerful organisational myths. These can be exaggerated over time, and rarely challenged.

So in a nutshell:

In order to transition to ISO45001 you need to understand the cultural context. To help you do this you need to know: organisational culture is complex. Organisational parts – functions, teams, departments, sites – are interconnected, and therefore interdependent. The connections aren’t linear, though, or immediately obvious or even visible because they include what’s under the surface too; collective values, attitudes, beliefs, emotions and experiences. Most of culture is held in that out of awareness place – what’s above the surface only provides the clues to it. This is the case whatever the size of the organisation, but the bigger the organisation the more complex it is.

Example – introducing a questioning attitude on site

  • Introducing a questioning attitude sounds straightforward – you tell people, if you’re uncertain or think something is unsafe, ask a question or challenge. But for it to be most effective, and referring to the Beehive SySTERMS Model:
  • Employees need to have the communication skills and confidence to challenge constructively – asking ‘what the f***!’ isn’t what’s needed here (Employees).
  • If employees are recruited on the basis of technical skills alone this may not be the case (HR SYstems).
  • If the training function has a technical focus there may not be the capability within the organization to develop the communication skills needed (Training).
  • If soft skills are not seen as important (Values) there may not be the money made available for soft skills development (Resources).
  • Managers need to have the awareness and confidence to deal constructively with questioning and challenge (Management).
  • In traditional hierarchies where managers tell and others do (Structure), having employees question may feel like too big a challenge to ‘how we do things round here’ (Values).
  • An employee who questions a manager in this environment is taking a big risk.
  • If someone questions and is knocked back, that story could become part of company folklore where it can act as a barrier to change.

So, how does all this answer the question: why is an organisational culture change initiative like reading Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’?

Answer – Because they are both started with the best of intentions, but rarely finished.

They’re both rarely finished because people underestimate the amount of time, commitment and energy required to finish them. In a short-term, fast-changing world anything that doesn’t create immediate results is likely to be side-lined, and the importance of ‘soft’ power, and the intangible elements of culture are often not taken into account in the planning. This can result in a re-structure, but with the same core values, beliefs and mindset, and therefore the same behaviours, causing the same problems.

First steps in culture change

To truly ‘build it in’, safety has to become a core organisational value – running through the organisation like words through a stick of rock; role-modelled by directors, adequately resourced and measured, a key part of business strategy, the backdrop to every decision made. The good thing is the shift from OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001 shows that that is now recognised – it is the future of safety.

Beehive SySTERMS Model – building safety in, not bolting it on

What are your experiences of culture change or behaviour change? Do any of these four things ring true for you? I’d be interested in your examples.

PS Beehive is running a free safety culture seminar as part of its ‘b.SAFE@Brathay’ partnership at Brathay in Cumbria on March 29th 2019. We’ll share the results of our research with Bangor university into organisational culture, and our trust-based safety culture model, the D2iT. For more information please contact

Beehive is working in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear (NSAN), providing one-day ‘Coaching to Support a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshops. The next workshop is on June 12th 2019, venue tbc. For more details please contact Stacy

The first step in any change is a gap analysis – identify where you are now and where you want to be so you can plan the next steps. There are many ways of doing this – an ISO 45001 audit, a safety culture analysis, or a more general cultural 360 like the OCI, the Organisational Culture Inventory. For more information contact

Coaching and ‘Individual Commitment to Nuclear Safety’

How coaching can develop ‘Individual Commitment to Safety’, the first of the WANO ‘Categories of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’

This is the">Coaching and ‘Individual Commitment to Nuclear Safety’" width="500" height="350" title="“Coaching and ‘Individual Commitment to Nuclear Safety’” — b.SAFE Buzz" frameborder="0" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" class="wp-embedded-content"> second podcast in which I explain how coaching supports a healthy nuclear safety culture by using WANO’s Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture. I explain that because coaching training develops the mindset and skills required to build ‘Individual Commitment to Safety’, introducing coaching can play an important role in the development of a healthy nuclear safety culture.

The PAC or Ego States Model is a model of personality that we use in our coaching training. We use it because it describes the mindset – Adult – that develops when you learn to coach, and that you invite in the people you coach. I show how it’s also the mindset needed to ensure people take personal responsibility for safety, one of the traits in this category. If you’d like to see the model see below. If you want to read further, please go to ‘How coaching supports ‘Individual Commitment to Safety’. If you actually want to test out your own personality, and find out how strong each ego state is for you, download the PAC Questionnaire here.

PAC Model

How coaching can support a healthy nuclear safety culture

b.SAFE Bitesize - a series of short training, webinars, blogs, podcasts and videos on all things health and safety
b.SAFE Bitesize – a series of short training, webinars, blogs, podcasts and videos on all things health and safety
b.SAFE Bitesize – ‘How Safety Can Support a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’

In this podcast, the first of a series of four, Sara Lodge describes how coaching supports the development of a healthy nuclear safety culture.


As both an activity and a management style, coaching has, over the last 20 years, become a mainstay of organisational development. This is because it:

  • increases accountability,
  • improves morale,
  • increases productivity
  • and increases well being, among other advantages, in both coaches and those they coach.

The benefits of coaching to the world of health and safety are also being more widely recognised. Because of this, IOSH, among other bodies, is promoting ‘Coaching for Safety’ programmes to support safety practitioners in their roles.

Nuclear sector

The nuclear sector has fallen behind in this. While much has been made of the need for a safety culture specific to the needs of the nuclear sector, there seems to be little recognition that development of these traits require a different set of skills to technical. This is something that we’ve noticed in our work in highly regulated sectors. While cultural or behavioural change initiatives may be outlined in detail, the skills required to achieve them aren’t. Therefore, while money may be spent on change programmes, because little money or effort is put into developing the skills essential to their success, the programmes fail, or are not as successful as they could be.

Coaching skills

I argue that coaching skills, which incorporate:

  • goal- and outcome setting
  • active listening
  • questioning skills including open, interrogative, exploratory, probing, confirmatory and challenging questioning
  • summarising and consensus building
  • collaborative problem solving and action learning
  • empathy and relationship building
  • constructive challenge
  • feedback and appraisal
  • reflective practice

Nuclear safety culture

Are all vital to building the kind of nuclear safety culture traits which evidence shows are needed to avoid major events, and I’d argue to investigate them.

Listen to hear the first part of my explanation why.

It’s time for a ‘soft’ SQEP*

* ‘Suitably Qualified and Experienced Person’

A couple of years ago I gave a presentation to the North Wales IOSH branch on behavioural safety and safety culture. There were 70 people – their biggest turnout in four years.

As part of the presentation I showed the following slide and said, ‘OK, these were the answers, so what was the question?’


The response was immediate – ‘the attributes of a good manager’, which is true. The actual question was ‘What makes a good supervisor/site manager?’ and I asked it of fitters, supervisors and site managers as part of research I undertook with Bangor University and Alstom Power Services (see my blog ‘We need a new approach to safety education’). Further discussion showed that there was wide recognition that these attributes in supervisors and managers helped to reduce error and error pre-cursors and supported other behavioural safety elements such as open reporting, questioning attitude, stop the line and human performance. So far, so good.

However, when I asked, ‘So how many of you and your organisations actually recruit or train for these attributes in your engineers, supervisors, QHSE managers or site managers?’, the answer was – none. That’s quite an incongruence – while it is widely recognised that these attributes play a significant role in creating a safe working environment, this recognition was not reflected in recruitment or training practices.

Communicating culture

In 2011 The Work Foundation published a report entitled ‘Good Work and Our Times’ in which it emphasised the role of first-line management in communicating culture in an organisation. Supervisors and managers are the people who create the day to day experience of the employees working for your organisation, who set the behavioural examples, who create the climate in which safety is carried out, who have the awesome responsibility of setting people to work in dangerous environments. They are the people who put into practice the organisation’s culture on the front line.

Yet how many of them understand that this is a  crucial part of their role? And how many of them are suitably qualified and experienced to do this, equipped with the knowledge of human behaviour and motivation, team behaviours, communication skills and with the emotional resilience, to fulfil this role?

b.SAFE D2iP ‘Dependency to Interdependency’ Safety Leadership Programme

Beehive’s flagship leadership programme – the b.SAFE D2iP Safety Leadership Programme

Beehive designed  a behavioural safety programme – the b.SAFE D2iP ‘Dependency to Interdependency’ Safety Leadership Programme – based on the research results for Alstom Power Services which resulted in significant changes to behaviours in first line supervision and management. Those changes had a significant effect on results, but the effects were further reaching. Once the behaviours became embedded it became apparent that the agency fitters used did not have the behaviours that Alstom now required. The drive and initiative of QHSE manager Mick Edwards, who was at the forefront of the behaviour change project, led to us working with the agencies rpoviding the fitters-introducing the behavioural model, explaining the need for a different approach to recruitment, and giving guidance on how to interview for behaviours. In short, introducing a whole new perspective on what being SQEP – suitably qualified and experienced for a role – meant.

The D2iP is now our flagship programme and we’ve delivered it in the power and rail sectors to excellent results.

Better recruitment cheaper than training

It is far cheaper to recruit people with the right attitudes and behaviours than it is to change the behaviours and attitudes of people already in role. This extends to recruiting people who are open to learning and change. But first these attributes and behaviours have to be taken seriously by the organisation in relation to risk and safety. They have to become part of the organisation’s criteria for recruitment, and those recruiting have to understand why and how to interview for behaviours and attitudes, as well as technical or operational qualifications and experience. Which leads to the question – is it time for ‘soft’ SQEP?